Much has been made of Colorado and Nebraska leaving the Big 12, and not much good has been said about their departure, by anyone. While losing a historic program like Nebraska to the Big Ten is huge, and Colorado to the Pac-12 a little less huge, though significant, it’s less devastating than people are making it sound.
The round-robin schedule will be great for the league.
I don’t blame you for being less than enthused. But you should be. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the northernmost teams in the current Pac-10 are poo-pooing the recent additions of Colorado and Utah. Why? Because the conference will be divided into North and South divisions, meaning Utah and Colorado will most likely be joining the Arizona teams and the Los Angeles teams in a South division and these northern teams can no longer sell to recruits the prospect of playing powerhouse USC every year. They’ll be playing mostly amongst themselves, isolated in the Cascadia region of the country. So, if they hate not being able to play a round-robin schedule, maybe it’s not so bad?
Well, let’s take a look.
For one, teams like Iowa State and Missouri can now sell to recruits the amenity of playing powerhouse Texas every year. That’s huge, and will do a lot to help the former Big 12 North schools who have seemingly been stuck in a rut lately. Kids from the recruiting hotbed of Texas have little incentive to go play for these schools as of right now. Often, instead, they’ll just leave for another conference. Being isolated in the middle of the country wasn’t beneficial to them and offered too little exposure. That won’t be the case anymore starting in 2011.
The Big 12 playing a round-robin schedule will also help out a program like Baylor, which has been hanging out in the South division with the big boys for the entire length of the conference, getting clobbered on a weekly basis. They’ll have a chance to win more games now. Even with Nebraska gone, the Big 12 could be entering a Golden Age; an age where the remaining teams discover the true identity of the conference, due to increased interrelations.
As a Longhorns fan, I know how much I love having a program like Kansas State come to town. They’ve been particularly antagonistic to us over the years and I really look forward to playing them more often. I respect their tradition and their moxie and really think of the rivalry there as exemplifying what it means to play football in the region. I feel similarly about the other Big 12 North schools.
While it may have made more sense for Iowa State to go to the Big Ten and for Nebraska to remain (where they could have renewed their rivalry with Oklahoma), none of this would have happened had Nebraska not been the first domino. The Big Ten wasn’t courting Iowa State (for obvious reasons), though I think it was a more natural fit. Still, I am intrigued by playing Iowa State more often. In the conference, they’re something of a stranger to us in Texas. No memorable moments from our meetings with them stick out in my mind, though I’ve always had a sort of paternalistic desire to see them succeed.
Let’s be clear, Nebraska just cut nearly all its ties to Texas as a recruiting pool, whether Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini wants to admit it or not. So did Colorado. Together, they have 30 players from the Lone Star State on their rosters. It will hurt Colorado less. They have five, to Nebraska’s 25, and what CU loses in recruits from Texas they’ll gain in recruits from another recruiting hotbed; California. More of their recruits come from there already.
The fact is many kids don’t want to go that far from home with no opportunities to come back and visit for football games. And kids don’t want to go to a school so far away that their family and friends won’t be able to go watch them play. This will especially harm Nebraska because the Mid West is not a recruiting hotbed like California, Florida, and Texas. So, these Texas recruits will have to go somewhere else. Enter the other Big 12 North schools. The name on the jersey matters little. The quality of the players is what makes for good football. And, with this new round-robin Big 12, that’s exactly what we’re going to get; good football.
On top of all this, the Big 12 teams that remain (due to national perceptions of it turning into a weak conference, accurate or not) will be looking to add more quality non-conference opponents. On media day, Texas head coach Mack Brown said that they’d be looking to schedule more “Ohio State type of match-ups” in the future. This is just icing on the cake. The round-robin schedule is already delicious cake.
So, fret not Big 12 fans. While the Big Ten and the Pac-10 are expanding and dividing -- which, for some, like the future Pac-12 North, means becoming isolated -- we’re coming closer together. And that may translate to becoming more visible, nationally.
In addition, just as a college football fan, I’m also intrigued and excited by the new additions to the Big Ten and Pac-10. Colorado loses almost all connection with Texas, but they strengthen their connection with California; particularly Southern California. Kids will get a chance to pay visits to their home state. Already, they have 25 people on their roster from California. CU will get an authentic cross-border rival in Utah. And Utah gets a much-deserved promotion to a big-time conference, where they can upset the apple cart of likely future division rivals USC on a regular basis. What’s not to love about that!?
I’m less excited about Nebraska joining the Big Ten. Like I said, I think they belong with us in the Big 12 (maybe they’ll come back) and I think Iowa State belongs in the Big Ten. But they do add a genuine cross-border rival in Iowa and I don’t doubt some quality games will come out of that likely divisional match-up.
So, contrary to what people might think, this is a great result. There are many perks that come with having a 10 team conference, and the Big 12 (or whatever) is about to experience them.